USA Commercial Trucking & SUV Fatalities Up Significantly

Despite the fact that data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Oct. 3 indicates highway fatalities declined overall in 2017 after two consecutive years of large increases, the agency added that highway fatalities in 2017 jumped significantly in the sport utility vehicle or SUV category and commercial trucking sector. Fatalities among SUV occupants climbed 3 percent, and deaths in crashes involving tractor-trailers jumped 5.8 percent.

Photo looking down on a fast-moving semi-tractor-trailer.
Semi-tractor-trailer.  Copyright image.

Clearly, the reduction in overall deaths is very much to be welcomed, however it still needs to be viewed relative to the USA, in the long-term, still being the poorest-performing of 30 developed nations.

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See the AASHTO article about the NHTSA figures.

Advanced Drivers of North America has joined the Road to Zero Coalition

Advanced Drivers of North America is pleased to have become a member of the Road to Zero Coalition [RTZ].

The Road to Zero Coalition logoAmong the many worthy goals of RTZ are those shown below on which we at Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA] place particular focus and in most instances we are in a position to promote or advise upon.

Photograph of the scene of a fatal road crash in the USA.
A fatal road traffic crash (not “accident”) which I came across by chance on my travels in the USA. Copyright image.

Any bold, italicized text has merely been highlighted by ADoNA for particular importance, whereas anything in [square parentheses] is a comment that has been added by us:

  • Reaching zero deaths will require policies that reverse course on the trend in many states to roll back safety laws, such as the trend toward higher and higher speed limits. 
  • We don’t need to wait for the promised future safety benefits of autonomous vehicles [Indeed, the time scale may be much longer than some of the promoters or optimists would have us believe].   We can save more lives now if we double down on policies already proven to reduce crashes. Research has already validated many effective strategies such as strong safety belt laws, photo enforcement, roundabouts, and programs to reduce alcohol-impaired driving, yet not all communities have adopted them.
Photograph of two roadside memorials, on opposite sides of a rural road, and from two separate crashes.
Not one but two memorials, for two separate crashes on either side of this road at this one location in Illinois. Photo: Copyright 2012.
  • States and communities should be increasing their investments in the comprehensive approach required to get to zero fatalities, including but not limited to well-designed and well-operated infrastructure, strong and well-enforced safety laws, extensive public education and outreach, and more effective emergency response capability….
  • Infrastructure improvements, reduced speed limit and better laws, providing better protection for vulnerable populations and changing driver behavior have all helped Vision Zero NYC get closer to zero.
  • It is only when all stakeholders come together that road safety projects, policies and technologies can [achieve maximum efficacy and] be sustainable—ultimately saving lives….
Photo of a motorcycle traffic police officer in Buffalo, NY.
A motorcycle traffic cop in Buffalo, NY. (Copyright image, 2017.)
  • High visibility traffic enforcement coupled with public awareness campaigns help raise driver awareness and reduce unsafe behaviors….
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of workplace fatalities. Employers can adopt and enhance road safety policies for employee drivers and fleets. They can also use health and safety promotion programs to get road safety information to all employees and their families. 
  • In large truck crashes where one or more deaths result from the crash, 88 percent of the time it is attributable to driver error by either the car or truck driver. Maintaining a safe speed and driving distance are critical, particularly when operating around commercial motor vehicles, which take longer to stop than a personal vehicle. 
  • Research and experience show that enacting and enforcing strong laws addressing driver behavior reduces crashes and save lives.
Photograph of a car that has just been in a collision. The airbags have inflated but are now in the process of deflating, and the car's two occupants are still in their seats, stunned.
This photo was taken no more than 2 seconds after the collision that triggered the airbags, which are now in the process of deflating. The driver and his passenger are still in the car, stunned. Possibly through distraction, the car driver had just collided with the back of a stationary truck — not an “accident,” an act of negligence; a collision. Copyright image.
  • Laws for occupant protection, child passenger restraints, teen driver safety, impairment and distraction work and states should take action now.  [In addition, at ADoNA — as part of the ‘extensive public education’ mentioned in the third bullet point, above — we strongly promote the need for vastly improved state drivers manuals, to match global best practices in this field, together with significantly improved student-driver training and testing. Until the eventual point in time when fully-autonomous, self-driving vehicles are the only mode, this will remain extremely important.]
Burning vehicle on the shoulder.  (Copyright image, 2012.)
  • Each day on average 100 people are killed and 6,500 more are injured in the USA in motor vehicle crashes. Combining strong safety laws with proven advanced vehicle technologies will be key to bringing down this preventable carnage on our roads.

It is time we all got together to help the USA move from being the long-term, least-safe of 30 developed nations, in terms of road deaths, to becoming one of the safest, and then on to the crucial goal of zero!

Visit the Road To Zero web page.

Will the USA Get Safer Road Signs? — The FHWA is updating the MUTCD!

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has announced this month (October 2018) that it is pursuing an update to the “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways” — the MUTCD — in preparation for the future of automated vehicles and to afford states and local communities with more opportunities to utilize innovation.

Photograph of a "Bump" sign but the p is covered by snow.
Who knew that snow has a sense of humor? (Copyright image, 2013)

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Autonomous Vehicles: Current Driver Assistance Features Assessed

While many people are eagerly anticipating the inevitable additional safety of autonomous vehicles, and others are wildly exaggerating how quickly this will all be available, it is apparent that none of it is truly imminent.

Rear three-quarter view of a Tesla Model S 85 sedan.
Good looking from any angle, a Tesla Model S 85;  a very enjoyable car to drive. (Copyright image.)

Indeed, as the first steps in just semi-autonomy, adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping are only now getting detailed appraisal, yet these features are only the tip of the autonomy iceberg.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS] has tested five cars that are available with these two systems.

A major issue was addressed by David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer, who said:  “Designers are struggling with trade-offs inherent in automated assistance.  If they limit functionality to keep drivers engaged, they risk a backlash that the systems are too rudimentary. If the systems seem too capable, then drivers may not give them the attention required to use them safely.”

This comment alone must give us all pause for thought about the extent to which drivers are going to overestimate the capabilities of various features which will increasingly be added to future cars.  Such overestimation is inevitably going to result in unnecessary deaths — seemingly a ‘Catch 22’ scenario.

U.S. Roundabouts can Create Risks and Confusion

On September 18, 2018, Maine DOT published the following wording and roundabout design on their Facebook page, but unfortunately the layout is unsatisfactory:

“It’s National Roundabout Week! Roundabouts have proven to be far safer than traditional intersections, but some people are still unsure of how to navigate them…” 

The problem is that, like most other states, Maine is apparently following the Federal Highways Administration [FHWA] ethos on roundabout construction but such guidelines deliberately ignore global best practices that have been developed over the fifty years in which the USA failed to build what are properly called “modern roundabouts.”  Sadly, the result is roundabouts that can have multiple potential safety flaws, just like the one in this illustration, as posted by Maine DOT.

The full layout of a new roundabout, as published by Maine DOT on September 18, 2018.

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Defensive and Advanced Driving Courses in Montreal, Canada

Whether it is due perhaps to long-term rigorous traffic enforcement, to the mandatory driver training for all young drivers, or to a good safety culture in general, drivers in Montreal certainly appear to have a better-than-average attitude towards Vulnerable Road Users [VRU], and in turn, this makes the city a pleasant place for training (or learning) defensive and advanced driving.

Cars in Montreal typically stop well before the stop line at crosswalks, creating greater safety for pedestrians.
As is common in Montreal, the cars in this photograph have stopped well before the crosswalk ‘stop’ line (rather than on it or even after it) which makes things much safer for pedestrians.  (Copyright image, 2018.)

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